Dancing to a more sacred and chaste rhythm

 

Forget the drink, drugs and clubs. All you need is a little meditation and some t'ai chi in a communal setting. Adrienne Murphy reports

An unusual event is billed for this month's Convergence Festival at the Cultivate Centre in Dublin's Temple Bar. Organiser Davie Philip, director with the group, Sustainable Ireland, describes the event as a "healing party".

"We've called it Being Human," he says. "It's basically a social evening that combines elements of yoga, t'ai chi, breathwork, chi kung, meditation and chanting with the kind of consciousness-altering music, visuals and trance-dance atmosphere that you'd normally associate with a nightclub - minus the typical nightclub hedonism fuelled by drink and drugs."

Being Human will take place in the magnificent high-ceilinged church hall of St Michael and John's on West Essex Street in Temple Bar. "At one end there'll be a bank of screens on which a VJ, or video jockey, will be mixing images," says Philip, "while a DJ mixes the dance tunes. All that people need to know beforehand is they're to come in comfortable clothes, that it's a bit like a yoga or meditation class, but with dancing and movement. You don't have to practise yoga to take part; the stretches will be very gentle."

Philip describes how after some initial free-form dancing, the music at Being Human will come down a touch as the silhouette of the first holistic bodywork facilitator appears on screen. While the other screens continue in their dreamlike way to project ever-changing imagery and colour, the facilitator's miked-up voice will guide participants through a grounding exercise.

"The music will still play under each facilitator's voice," explains Philip. "We want the event to be seamless, all the various elements flowing into each other. Some people might decide they don't want to dance, they just want to watch the film, and that's no problem - it's free-style."

The chanting component of Being Human sounds intriguing, if chanting is your cup of tea (and excruciating if it's not). Philip explains how on a recent visit to India he picked up some sacred Indian music - known as "kirtan" - unusual in that it's set to contemporary dance beats.

"There's voices singing 'shiva shiva shiva sham-bo' with dance beats in the background," he says. "It has inspired an idea for Being Human that we're calling 'kirtan karoake', where we're putting mantras up on screen so that people can vocalise with the music while they're dancing."

Philip himself teaches neither yoga, t'ai chi nor any of the other Being Human techniques. So what qualifies him to organise the kind of healing party that he describes?

"I've been practising yoga and t'ai chi for the last 10 years," he says, "and I've felt the positive effect they have on health. Running Sustainable Ireland's Convergence Festivals has also put me in contact with lots of professional teachers, and these are the people I've sourced to help facilitate the event."

While guided bodywork forms part of Being Human, dance is intended to be the main form of movement. But with alcohol conspicuously absent, is it not unrealistic to expect people to drop their inhibitions and move to the groove? "Not at all," says Philip. "From what I can see, a lot of the people in the 25-40 year age group who are into yoga and t'ai chi also love to dance and be in a social environment.

"They have an awareness that you don't require alcohol to move in commune with other people. There's a demand for social interaction that's not fuelled by alcohol, and people are welcoming the fact that this is an alcohol-free event."

Philip adds: "Another, quite different layer to Being Human comes from the fact that we want this event to reflect the overall theme of the Convergence Festival, which is 'Building Healthy Community'.

"I believe that the biggest problem with the New Age movement - which espoused yoga and these other practices in the West - was that it focused almost exclusively on the self. We're trying to take a more integral approach, where the health of the individual is seen in the context of the health of society, environment and culture."

To this end, Philip hopes the "multi-sensory, participatory experience" of Being Human will carry punters on a "transformational journey through human evolution and consciousness", via thematically linked dance music, sound samples, colour and visuals inspired by a contemporary cultural theory known as "Spiral Dynamics".

Philip explains: "Spiral Dynamics is basically a colour-coded, spiral-shaped 'bio-psycho-social map' that charts the evolution and emergence of human values, both individually and collectively, in an attempt to explain human life and society. At Being Human we'll be using images from our past, present and future that aim to offer the dancers some gentle psychological insight about their place in evolution and their own personal values systems."

Clinical psychologist and founding member of the Irish Skeptics Society, Paul O'Donoghue, has doubts about this aspect of Being Human.

"The concrete aim of the night," he says, "that people have fun without the aid of alcohol or drugs, may be laudable, but the broader aims of the group are esoteric and grandiose. Like many New Age schemes, Spiral Dynamics is heavy on psychobabble and light on supportive research."

Philip disagrees and stresses that at the end of the day, the main thing is that people have a good time. "Music and dancing brings us into community," he says. "Being Human is really for people who love that journey of the trance that you can go into with contemporary dance music. But we'll have it in a context where it's a bit more sacred and a bit more whole."

Being Human takes place from 8pm to 10.30pm on Sunday, April 24th at the Cultivate Centre, Temple Bar, Dublin. Tickets are €10. To book, tel 01 674 5773. An all-day seminar on Spiral Dynamics takes place in the same venue on April 16th. To book, visit www.visionaries.ie